The fear of spiders isn’t uncommon. In fact, it’s one of the most common phobias. What’s the explanation behind this fear? Some say that evolution is to blame.
The theory is that since we once lived in a world monopolized by potentially deadly reptiles, our minds elicit a fear response when met with comparable creatures, like spiders and snakes.
However, most spiders are not harmful, and living with a fear of them can be really exhausting for some. If you are wondering how to get rid of the phobia of spiders, this article is for you.
What Causes Your Fear?
Before looking at the ways to cope, it would be beneficial to learn why you might be afraid of these creatures with hairy legs. Knowing the reason could make your treatment faster.
Outside of evolutionary theory, we know of a few other possible causes of arachnophobia, a scientific name for fear of spiders. These encompass but aren’t restricted to:
- Past negative experiences: If someone has a negative encounter with a spider, they may develop a fear of spiders.
- Conditioning: Society tells us that spiders are scary, so we develop a fear of them.
- Genetics: Alongside other risk factors, studies indicate that a family history of the fear of spiders might make it more likely that you will have a fear of spiders, too.
How Can You Overcome Your Fear of Spiders?
Learning how to get over the fear of spiders might take time. Severe fear of spiders or phobia falls into the group of specific phobias. Specific phobia is an anxiety disorder that clinicians diagnose when an individual has a specific, irrational, and intense fear of something.
Different treatment options are available for those who suffer from specific phobias. Here are some ways to address the phobia.
Exposure therapy for arachnophobia
In exposure therapy, you expose yourself to your phobia with the help of a therapist and gradually desensitize yourself. Exposure therapy can work in a variety of ways. The exposure might happen all at once, in little increments, in virtual reality, or in other ways.
An example of what this might look like is a therapy session where your therapist shows you a video of spiders. This doesn't mean you have to confront your phobia alone; systematic desensitization techniques are used to reduce anxiety, which is how your brain eventually shifts to see spiders as less of a threat.
Later, exposure therapy might even look like this:
- Visit a museum or zoo with spiders.
- Stay nearby while another person interacts with a spider.
- Hold or touch a toy spider.
Though exposure therapy for a phobia may appear intimidating, keep in mind that you have a qualified professional by your side and that you are in control. Your therapist will assist you in determining the best method of exposure for you, will discuss your concerns, and will move at an appropriate pace.
CBT for arachnophobia
Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) is known as a gold standard for various anxiety disorders, such as a specific phobia.
To understand cognitive behavioral therapy, it can help to first grasp neuroplasticity. Neuroplasticity refers to the ability our brain has to change. In cognitive behavioral therapy, we use that ability to adjust our thought patterns.
When it comes to arachnophobia specifically, in CBT, you will replace irrational, fearful thoughts about spiders with thoughts that are more rational. Even if you know that spiders aren’t typically dangerous, CBT lets you internalize this knowledge. You may use relaxation techniques in CBT for arachnophobia to aid this shift in mentality.
Online therapy for the fear of spiders
Let’s say that you want to learn how to get over the fear of spiders but don’t have time for therapy or don’t wish to receive therapy services in person. Online therapy could be the answer.
In online therapy, a therapist employs the same techniques they would in face-to-face sessions. Cognitive behavioral therapy for arachnophobia, for example, looks more or less the same online as it would face-to-face. The distinction is that your therapist will provide skills, give you a platform to speak, and engage in other parts of the therapeutic process via audio or text message.
Online therapy is a comfortable way to access treatment. Many people don’t have time to travel to a therapist’s office, don’t feel safe attending therapy in-person due to the Covid-19 pandemic, live in rural areas and can’t access qualified phobia therapists, or are in another similar situation. In these cases, as well as those where it’s simply a preference, online counseling is a solution.
Medication for arachnophobia
Another way how to get over the fear of spiders is by changing your memory. Memory reconsolidation seeks to modify the way our brains process memories. What we know about the human mind is that it can change, and with memory reconsolidation, we seek to “edit” the way our brain responds to what we are afraid of. This method also includes exposure to spiders, but it’s a little bit different.
How does memory reconsolidation work for the fear of spiders?
In one study, people living with a phobia of spiders were exposed to spiders. Then, they took a drug called propranolol, which is sometimes used for anxiety and panic attacks. After that, researchers looked at the way they responded to spiders and found that the fear decreased. This is likely because the brain no longer associated spiders with the extreme fear response.
Some medications, such as escitalopram (Lexapro), are approved for specific phobia. Someone may also receive a prescription for medications like propranolol or benzodiazepines.
Medication for the fear of spiders, or any other specific phobia, is most effective when you also attend therapy. Nevertheless, it can be a useful part of the process, and it may be particularly worthwhile for those who hope to get over the severe fear of spiders.
How to Cope With the Fear of Spiders
You’re ready to overcome your fear. What can you do now? Try these tips:
- Challenge fearful thoughts. When an irrational thought comes to mind “even though I need to, my fear of killing spiders is too bad for me to go into the garage; I can’t do it”, challenge it with something like, “in reality, it is not likely that anything will happen to me if I encounter a spider.”
- Use exposure therapy techniques. Again, this could mean that you touch a fake spider, go to a pet store with spiders, watch a video, look at photographs, go to a zoo, or expose yourself to spiders in another capacity. You may utilize relaxation techniques, like breathing exercises, when you do this.
- Seek therapy. The most secure way to overcome a phobia once and for all is through therapy. If the initial treatment you try isn’t the right fit, try something new. Perhaps you find that CBT isn’t your cup of tea. Other options, like acceptance and commitment therapy (ACT), can also treat the fear of spiders.
Or maybe you want to know how to help someone get over the fear of spiders. Apart from these tips, there is another thing you can do. Offer them to stay by their side or aid them while they engage in exposure activities, as your presence may be very calming to them.
Living with a fear of spiders can be difficult. While there is no simple way to overcome it, it’s definitely possible. Therapy is the most effective way, as it helps you deal with strong emotions along the way and not to lose your progress. There are different methods to try, and you can choose the most comfortable one for you.
With DoMental, you can connect to a licensed and compassionate online therapist that will help you overcome your fears.